Entrepreneur's talents transform into scholarships for OU veterans

Winter 2019

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The late Lou Miller built a thriving furniture business and became a real-estate entrepeneur. Photo courtesy L&M Office Furniture

The late Lou Miller built a thriving furniture business and became a real-estate entrepeneur. Photo courtesy L&M Office Furniture

The entrepreneurial spirit of a World War II veteran and Tulsa businessman has turned into educational opportunities for veterans and active-duty military members at the University of Oklahoma.

The Lou and Connie Miller Charitable Foundation recently made a $100,000 installment as part of a five-year, $500,000 pledge to the OU Foundation. The gift will provide scholarships to veterans and active-duty military students, with priority given to those not able to utilize full Department of Veterans Affairs Education and Training Benefits.

“Many of our students’ career choices require graduate-level degrees but, nine times out of 10, the VA educational benefits’ months of eligibility per student will not cover the completion of a degree past four years,” said Jennifer Trimmer, director of OU Veteran Student Services.

“There is no way to express how vital scholarships like that provided by the Lou and Connie Miller Foundation are for the more than 800 military service-connected students on OU’s Norman campus,” she said.

“We hope the scholarships will take some financial pressure off students so they can spend less time working and more time going to school,” said Miller’s former attorney and foundation trustee Kirk Clausing. He noted that military students who take extra jobs sometimes extend their education by years and may even drop out under the strain.

“If we can help somebody reduce their financial burden and student loans, we will do it,” said Clausing, who holds both a bachelor’s and law degree from OU.

Lou Miller served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. The Tulsa native returned home and joined his family-owned printing business after the war. By the early 1960s, he decided to branch out on his own, said foundation trustee and the Millers’ longtime accountant, Max Vowel.

“He borrowed $4,000, went up to Omaha, Neb., rented four semi-trucks and brought back new and used office furniture,” Vowel said. Miller set L&M Office Furniture apart by keeping a large inventory on hand, reducing customer wait time and outpacing competitors whose orders from manufacturers frequently took four months to arrive.

“He had some hard competition from the national firms, and he used to beat them handily,” Vowel said. “Mr. Miller also was one of the kindest gentlemen I’ve ever known. He kept a back room stocked with used office and home furniture. If a customer couldn’t afford what they needed, he’d just say, ‘Let’s go back here and pick something out.’ ”

Today, L&M Office Furniture features locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and has annual sales in excess of $20 million.

Miller’s shrewdest business instincts may have been in real estate. He and his wife, Connie, purchased 160 acres between Tulsa and Broken Arrow to accommodate Connie’s growing stable of quarter horses. “The highway department came through when they built the Broken Arrow Expressway. He got a real good price,” Vowel said wryly.

Miller also sold portions of the land to a local hospital and soon was purchasing houses, commercial buildings, land parcels and shopping centers. In accordance with Miller’s wishes at the time of his 2006 death, his estate became the Lou and Connie Miller Charitable Foundation, which regularly supports such efforts as the Tulsa Ballet and Tulsa’s Emergency Infant Services. The foundation also gives $25,000 annually to the OU College of Law.

“He was always true to his word,” Vowel said. “If he said he would do something, he’d do it.”